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Apr. 16th, 2017

comfort zones

Apr. 16th, 2017 05:19 pm
ginlindzey: At ACL (Default)
Fresco of a Theater Mask of a Woman from Pompeii

I have been thinking a lot about comfort zones of late.

The first teacher I had that paid any attention to comfort zones was Nancy Llewellyn at Rusticatio At my first Rusticatio it was nothing more than a mid week conversation in English to find out how I was doing. Over the next 4-5 years that I attended Rusticatio, she continued to focus ways to refine monitoring of comfort zones for participants, including the "full check" from Where Are Your Keys She spoke about participants who went home early because of the stress of being in the target language 24/7. Nancy was ever mindful of the teacher or student who has done nothing but read Latin and identify grammar and maybe structured composition. The stress comes from being used to being the smartest person in the room to nearly completely tongue-tied for lack of vocabulary for everyday conversation and thus feeling like the stupidest person in the room.

When Nancy checked on me during my first Rusticatio, I was ok. Yes of course I was having all of the tongue-tied issues of your average tiro, but I was surviving. In retrospect one of the reasons why I wasn't as stressed as I could have been was because I would take nature walks on the property and think. Of course the thinking was in English. In WAYK terms I was putting myself "In the Meadow" to lower my fullness level, but I was doing myself a serious disservice by not constantly forcing myself to engage in the language. In retrospect, it was less to do with the stress of being in the language 24/7 but more to do with complications in my home life between my special needs son and a rebelious teenager (both thankfully into their 20s now). The last year I attended Rusticatio, I made myself talk to myself out loud in Latin when I went on walks through the woods, sometimes practicing drills we had done in one of the sessions--like changing direct statements to indirect statements or questions. It's work to be in the target language 24/7 and it can be rewarding. And while it may come naturally to some, for others of us it is work, and work stretches our comfort zones.

Anyway, I am mindful of comfort zones of my students, though admittedly for the students who aren't engaged it's less about comfort zones and more about a willingness to engage. For instance, there were certain aspects to doing Discipulus Illustris activities earlier in the year that really made some student's eyes glaze over. I do intend to work in some Discipulus Illustris activities next year, but I have to figure out a better angle that keeps the interest and engagement higher, especially when it is NOT that particular student's turn.

But really what I wanted to talk about here was comfort zones of TEACHERS. Several colleagues knew I was pushing off into trying Comprehensible Input this year, and were very interested in my experience (hence my previous post). As I have said before, but perhaps not too clearly, is that my experiences from teaching in previous years as well as this year are MINE, and may not be like yours or anyone else's. I can't give you the answer for what is right for YOU, whoever you are. (And I think saying that doing JCL or Comprehensible Input or whatever will increase your enrollment is also kinda specious; good teaching in whatever form that takes--whatever works for YOU and your students--is probably the only thing that truly makes a program strong.)

One very wise practitioner of Comprehensible Input has said that one shouldn't try to make the shift to CI all in one year--not to overdo it. But perhaps you need a year of many things not going well (in one's own mind) in order to see how to make certain things work better the next time around. I was out of my comfort zone a lot this year--doing things I had never done before, trying to maintain conversations with students when I didn't have the vocabulary for it (especially with some of the Discipulus Illustris and other things I was trying earlier in the year). I gave up early in the year on timing how long we stayed in Latin (especially in one of my classes where there were just too many freshman boys totally not interested and refusing to try). Perhaps if I had given a doughnut party reward or something to motivate them. But in all honesty, it was also really draining on me. That's not to say that I won't keep trying to up my in-class Latin but being "on" all the time when you are not used to it is difficult. And admittedly always in the back of my mind on days where things were particularly unsuccessful or off-task was the thought of different reading-based activities that I knew would engage more students but were not CI related.

There are things which help, which many people who promote CI will talk about. First and foremost is scripting in advance of class. One teacher even talked about how during his first year of employing CI he had little scripts taped up all around the room where he knew he'd be standing. For me, it was scripting out little dialogues to work certain vocabulary that I had in Google Slides. It helped me to get used to having the little mini-conversations to work vocab and forms as well as helping students to understand what I was asking them to do. It made it easier to redirect off-task students as well as keeping myself from misspeaking as much. I don't mind making mistakes in front of students. We just all say "mirabile!" (Another WAYK thing) and keep going.

For Texans (and I'm sure many others out there) new standards will be in place in 2017. There will be speaking proficiencies as well as writing proficiencies, not to mention of course reading proficiencies. You do not need to go whole hog Comprehensible Input to address these things. You may want to, and it may be what's right for you, or it may be the absolute wrong thing for you. I have seen the stress of just considering a CI approach make people think about quitting teaching altogether. And it goes back to comfort zones. For me, it's significantly less about comfort zones and more about students lacking the reading skills I want them to have by this time of year. (Some have interpreted this more about my wanting to cover chapters and not develop proficiencies, but it really isn't.)

For some people, their Latin education never once involved doing much in the way of speaking Latin let alone even reading it aloud. (Professors, what the hell? Not even reading aloud?! I'm just saying....) For these teachers not only is conversational Latin out of their comfort zone, it's not even in their interest zone. And the prospect of teaching effectively without trying to be conversational versus the fear of continual stress and possible failure coupled with ineffective teaching makes it a non-starter for a conversation. And not everyone who teaches Latin effectively has Latin as their 24/7 passion. (Some of us are freaks, and we know it.) Some people have a broad range of interests not remotely tied to Latin. To force a teacher who falls into this category suddenly to do CI is wrong.

As teachers we should always be striving to help each other improve. Part of that is understanding the comfort zones of all those around us, including other teachers and not just our students. We need to understand that what might be easy for us might be very difficult for another for a variety of reasons. Some of us don't mind being pushed a good distance out of our comfort zones; others need to take things more slowly. And while I have believed since my high school days that Latin is meant to be read aloud and heard, conversational Latin still never came easily to me at Rusticatio. Sure, I could participate well in the sessions, but I just never got into the chitchat on the back porch. (Part of being an extroverted introvert, I suppose. If I ever get back to Rusticatio, I will force myself to stay out there and participate!)

My Latin 1s recently did presentations in Latin. They were simple in many respects and I wasn't really sure what would happen. The projects were on Brando Brown Canem Vult, and they were to make a promotional product or educational materials and then present it to the class. (I should really be home grading those right now, but such is life.) I knew this would put some people really out of their comfort zones, but most did fine. A few kids didn't follow instructions or take advice and resorted to Google translate (ugh--who could understand that?), but most were ok, more or less. Here's what I learned: they all started off fine totally in their comfort zone. Why? They began with "Same Conversation" (another WAYK term; see link above). They started with something we did every day and they knew really well. With greetings and introductions. Now, we didn't exactly do greetings and introductions each day BUT it was part of one of the rotating "jobs" at the beginning of class that I have in my room. Everyone was so used to that "same conversation" that it was well within their comfort zone. (More about jobs in a later post because thinking about this has made me revise and improve these jobs.) The most impressive presentations successfully mined every conversational script I built into the Google Slides I used with each chapter of Brando Brown Canem Vult. The students that choked the hardest were also the ones that I was least able to engage. I will need to find a way to address that next year.

Anyway, next year's presentations will be totally backward designed so that whatever phrasing might be needed to present will be prebuilt into activities or tasks that occur earlier in the year. I'm kind of excited at the thought.

So yes, while my last post was all about my "return to reading" which really meant my return to putting my focus back onto developing reading skills and keeping CLC as my leading tool, it's not that I'm dumping everything I've learned this year. There are some great folks leading the way with CI, and as I have said before, my hat's off to them. Just as there are all sorts of ways to be a good parent, I believe that there all sorts of ways to be a good teacher. It is up to you to determine what truly works for you, your students, and your program.